In fall 2018 our team participated in a sharing economy hackathon organized by Mercari, Inc. We had fun, played kicker and darts, and wrote a bit of code. The idea suggested by our team and its implementation appeared to be the most attractive to the judges, and we received the first prize. So, let us share some tips about participating in hackathons.

What a Hackathon is

A hackathon is a contest between teams of software developers, graphic designers, project managers, and other experts. Most hackathons are short. They take 2448 hours. During this time, every team is expected to come up with an idea and implement it. However, almost all teams prepare their plans way in advance. Some even bring their startups built earlier, and during hackathons are only having drinks and pitch. That’s not a quite fair approach, but on many hackathons, a bit of code written before the hackathon is allowed providing that you inform the jury about that.

It’s essential that hackathons are more about good ideas, prototyping, and pitching, rather than writing a lot of perfect quality code and solving sophisticated programming tasks. If you are not that good in writing code for some mind-​numbing algorithms, you shouldn’t be afraid of hackathons. Even a functional prototype may be enough to win, but if you have something that works, your chance to win is much higher.

How to Prepare for a Hackathon

It is crucial to come prepared because you will have little time during the hackathon.

  • Think about a few different approaches to solve one of the suggested challenges. Mentors may reject your idea, or you may find out that it has been implemented already. So, you may need another one.
  • Make sure you know how to implement those ideas and know how to use all of the necessary tools to create your prototype. For instance, if your project is related to AI and you will need TensorFlow, take some time to play with it if you didn’t use it before.
  • Install the required software beforehand and check if it works as expected.
  • Print your business cards. A hackathon is always a great networking opportunity.

The Idea

One of the most important things is the idea that you come up with for a hackathon. It should be unique, attracting, and very clear. It is of utmost importance that it should be easy to understand. If you cannot deliver your idea to the auditory in 23 sentences that’s probably not the right idea for a hackathon.

If you use AI and a blockchain, it doesn’t guaranty you can win a prize. However, hype technologies do play their role and are always a plus if they make at least some sense in your project.


A good pitch with a quality visual presentation is more important than the perfection of code and other small details in your project. Be sure to reserve enough time to prepare for your pitch.

Explain what problem you are trying to solve, why it is essential, and how you are going to solve it. Good live examples will help you to make your point.

When you pitch, keep track of time. At hackathons, there is a limited time for a pitch and a few extra minutes for questions from the jury. It is a requirement, and all teams are informed about it. Despite, on every hackathon, some teams fail even to start explaining their ideas when their time is already off. Usually, they were busy correcting their code until the last minute and didn’t take the pitch preparation seriously enough.


It is worth to participate in hackathons. Don’t hesitate if you are not a top specialist on the topic. You may get a brilliant idea precisely because you are not an expert and have a new view on specific problems. Don’t be afraid if your programming skills are not ideal. Your innovative thinking is more important.

Just go for it. That’s wonderful to win a prize. But in any case, you’ll enjoy the contest and meet many great people.